Creating Places: A Citizen Observer's Look at Nashville's Built Environment

Writer's Note: William Williams' interest in the manmade environment dates to 1970, at which point the then-young Williams started a collection of postcards of city skylines. The collection now numbers 1,000-plus cards. Among the writer's specific interests are exterior building design, city district planning, demographics, signage, mixed-use development, mass transit and green/sustainable construction and living. Williams began his Creating Places column with The City Paper in February 2005. The column in its original form was discontinued in September 2008 and reinvented via this blog in November 2008. Creating Places can be found on the home page of the website of The City Paper, at which Williams has worked in various capacities since October 2000.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Creating Places: Photos of the Ham

I have long contended that Birmingham is a vastly underrated Southeastern city. The city's combination of its central business district and Southside district offer one of the strongest one-two urban fabric punches (particularly at street side) in the South. Indeed, I continue to be a bit puzzled about how clueless many of those folks who follow the manmade environment — and who are otherwise quite knowledgeable about U.S. cities, planning, architecture, growth, etc.— are regarding the Ham.

The photos found at this link to a skyscraper thread reveal lots of solid infill in Alabama's largest city. (Scroll down seven posts to begin the "photo tour.")

Given I consider Birmingham a peer city (to some extent) more so than most people I know, I would be curious to get any feedback.


  1. I disagree that Birmingham is a peer city to Nashville.

    Granted, there are some fine old buildings and it's good to see new projects underway, especially the ballpark near downtown.

    I consider Nashville's peer cities to be Charlotte, Austin, Raleigh and Indianapolis. Birmingham is a level below.

    1. No way is Birmingham even close to being a peer city of Nashville. It's not even the state capital.

      I remember that its county (Jefferson Co.) went bankrupt a few years ago.

  2. Birmingham has some fine old structures, but it doesn't even come close to matching Nashville

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  4. Note I wrote "to some extent." Overall I agree Nashville is simply on a different level than the Ham.

    But Birmingham is superior (in some cases vastly) to Nashville in the following areas:

    1. Vintage built fabric. The Ham may as well be Chicago compared to Nashville in this respect.


2. HIgh-end restaurants. Though Nashville almost certainly has more quality restaurants overall, Birmingham's 10 best collectively likely rank higher than Nashville's 10 best. Frank Stitt is a major reason for this. Check his Wikipedia page

    3. Art museum (big time)


4. Zoo

    5. Urban districts located outside the urban core. Mountain Brook, Homewood, Highland Park and English Village. There are absolutely no places like these in Nashville. And it's not even close.

    6. Five Points (one of, if not the, best mixed-use urban districts I've visited in all the Southeast's large cities).

    No doubt, Nashville has much more going for it than Birmingham, but to not recognize that the Ham is superior in some respects (and I'm not suggesting any of you who have have posted above have) would be foolish.


  5. I was born in Mountain Brook. I was taught from my earliest years to NEVER, NEVER refer to Birmingham as the Ham.

  6. A-Mous,

    Interesting. I did not know that name was frowned upon. But I struggle to use "The Diverse City" moniker, as the city's visitors' bureau so created in 2006. Seems odd. I do see various references to "The Ham" via Google searches.


  7. B'ham is the best shorthand for Birmingham, definitely not "The Ham". You here that spoken and written a lot locally, and in business circles.

    "The Ham" sounds ridiculous.

  8. Ah, yes. I've seen B'ham. And I like that. Will use going forward. Thanks for the heads up.